In Italy, Skrill exec manages firm’s coronavirus response—and his own

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When the coronavirus started to accelerate in Italy, Skrill's Lorenzo Pellegrino left London for Milan to be with his family.

“I’ve been in my apartment for nine days,” said Pellegrino, who is CEO of Skrill Ltd, Neteller and Income Access, which are units of Paysafe. “We can work from home and I’m actually getting a lot done.”

The nationwide lockdown in Italy has necessitated changes for Pellegrino personally, and for his business. The two worlds often intersect.

Skrill recently dropped all fees and foreign currency charges for Skrill’s Money Transfer to send funds to Italy, and has not set a date to reinstate those fees. Skrill's parent company Paysafe has made several related moves, such as temporarily closing some European offices.

Read more: Complete coverage of the coronavirus impact

The virus has been particularly devastating in northern Italy, causing some people with relatives in other parts of the country to relocate. Digital payments have helped people in Italy during the time of crisis, when fast decisions often accompany challenges in normal financial management — such as moving to an area where it may be hard to access an ATM.

“There are a lot of people who have been moving from the north to the south,” Pellegrino said. “I thought it was a good idea to facilitate transfers for them.”

Lorenzo Pellegrino, CEO of Skrill Ltd, Neteller and Income Access, which are units of Paysafe.
Lorenzo Pellegrino, CEO of Skrill Ltd, Neteller and Income Access, which are units of Paysafe.

Transaction volume on the Skrill app has increased about 15% over the past few days, though overall payments in Italy have trended downward, Pellegrino said.

Skrill, which offers transfers in more than 50 remittance corridors, may waive fees in other markets as conditions warrant, Pellegrino said. Spain and France have initiated vast business closures, as have several U.S. states.

“If you want to buy something online, food or anything else you may need, it’s useful to have some digital money on a screen that you can use to make a payment,” Pellegrino said.

Given the concerns over access to cash — and the safety of cash — fees for digital payments have become a secondary concern.

AIB, an Irish bank, has paused a plan to charge a fee of about one cent for contactless transactions, part of a series of concessions at AIB, such as offering applications to delay mortgage payments, or to pay only interest on certain loans. The bank is also directly compensating staff to stay home if they have health care workers in their family.

The contactless fee waiver reversed a recent decision at AIB to generate fees from digital transactions. AIB did not return a request for comment by deadline, but its move follows fears that paper bills could spread the virus and are an attempt to boost contactless usage through a financial incentive.

While digital payments should increase in the short-term, that doesn’t necessarily translate to contactless cards or checkout free stores as primary methods of cash avoidance.

“I question the projected surge in contactless transactions due to the virus,” said Sarah Grotta, director of the commercial and enterprise payments advisory service at Mercator. “If I am at the checkout, I can swipe and dip my card at the point of sale without directly interacting with a cashier or touching anything beyond my own card.”

The trend away from cash toward online and digital payments of course predates the pandemic, which is acting more as an accelerant than a direct catalyst. While automated transactions will increase, it’s still hard to imagine a total removal of cash.

The World Health Organization has backed off of initial reports that the coronavirus could spread via cash, though the Federal Reserve has quarantined dollars that were repatriated from Asia, and retailers such as H&M are curtailing cash acceptance.

“I’m not sure banning cash, despite its ability to carry a virus, is actually practical,” Grotta said. “There are many individuals who conduct commerce only in cash and often they are lower-income individuals. I can’t imagine a grocer denying someone food because they can only have cash.”

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